AM Mark Isherwood's anger at Flintshire's record number of school closures since devolution

Reporter:

Paul Chamberlain

With a high school set to close in two weeks time an Assembly Member has slammed the number of schools shut in Flintshire during devolution.

North Wales Conservative Assembly Member Mark Isherwood has expressed his concern by new figures which show that since 1999, 41 schools have been closed in North Wales, with the largest number being in Flintshire.

Fresh data from the Welsh Government shows that in the 18 years since devolution, Flintshire has closed 10 schools, the same as neighbouring Wrexham and Denbighshire combined with six and four respectively.

On July 20, John Summers High School in Queensferry will become the 11th to close as it shuts its doors for the final time.

Across Wales, 227 local authority maintained schools have been closed since 1999, with rural areas worst affected.

In the last 12 months, Ysgol Maes Edwin in Flint Mountain and Ysgol Llanfynydd have both been closed in Flintshire.

Mr Isherwood said: “When I called on the Welsh Government to respond to concerns that Flintshire Council was using old and inaccurate data and acting in breach of the School Organisation Code in respect of school closures, the previous Education Minister said, ‘I can’t comment in terms of the School Organisation Code and the guidance, because, of course, this may come before Welsh Ministers’.

“Of course, in the context of small and rural schools such as Ysgol Llanfynydd and Ysgol Maes Edwin, that hadn’t been the case since 2013.

“Small and rural schools can provide real academic, cultural and social benefits, but time and time again this has been overlooked and schools have been closed against the wishes of pupils, parents and staff.

“It is extremely sad that we have lost so many great schools since devolution and as a North Wales AM I am particularly concerned that we have lost 41 in North Wales.”

He added: “Too many good schools have closed their doors due to the policies of successive Labour Welsh Governments and it is our rural areas that have been hit hardest.

“No good school that is able to deliver the national curriculum should be forced to close without the agreement of parents, teachers and governors.”

Responding to Mr Isherwood’s concerns, Claire Homard, Flintshire Council interim chief officer, education and youth, said its statutory duty to provide a sufficient number of school places in the “right locations” wasn’t “straightforward”.

“This is not straightforward in that there are a large number of surplus school places in some areas of the county, whilst other areas don’t have enough places to meet the local demand,” she said.

“In other areas, school populations are sustained by children and young people from outside the local area through parental preference.

“The need to maintain a large number of ageing school buildings and the supporting infrastructure is unsustainable. 

“Since funding for schools is largely driven by pupil numbers, surplus capacity means a disproportionate amount of funding is spent on infrastructure  and the ‘fixed costs’ of running a school.”

She continued: “This funding could be better used to ensure that pupil teacher ratios are minimised to make a direct difference to learners.

“As public service funding reduces over forthcoming years the case for reprioritisation and change becomes even more compelling.

“All consultations for school organisational change are undertaken in line with the legal framework as noted in Welsh Government’s School Organisation code, all data used is Welsh Government verified school data.”

Email:

paul.chamberlain@nwn.co.uk

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